It was just as the prosecution predicted. Accused serial killer Derrick Todd Lee entered a plea of not guilty in court Wednesday. But there was something that came as a surprise to many in the court room, the judge set a date for Lee's trial to start. March first of next year is when Derrick Todd Lee is expected to go to trial for the murder of Charlotte Murray Pace, the second confirmed victim of the suspected serial killer. And despite the dna evidence law enforcement says links Lee to her murder and others, Wednesday morning Derrick Todd Lee declared he is not guilty.
Since his arrest in Atlanta, Georgia, this was Derrick Todd Lee's first appearance in Baton Rouge court. And the "first" time family members of the victims were able to see the suspected serial killer, face to face. Inside judge Richard Anderson's courtroom, Lee stood the entire time with his attorneys by his side. Charged with the first degree murder of LSU graduate student Murray Pace, Lee entered a plea of not guilty.
The victims' family members, wept and held each other for support. Outside the court, prosecutors said they were not surprised by Lee's plea. But felt encouraged that the judge sided with them and set a date for the trial to start. First assistant district attorney John Sinquefield said, "victims have rights in Louisiana now and victims have a right to a reasonably speedy progress of these proceedings. The only way we can get justice for the victims in this case is to have a trial."
On the other hand Lee's attorney, Mike Mitchell, objected to the trial date. His argument in court was that March first, of next year, nine months from now, is not enough time to adequately prepare a defense. Especially considering the fact that prosecutors also plan to introduce evidence from the murders of three other alleged victims as well. But outside court, this is all Mitchell would say. "I made some comments on the record in court concerning the trial date and all that and I'm gonna let my comments in court stand. I'm not gonna comment further." Sinquefield added, "if they are not ready to go to trial in nine months then they should be there with hard evidence to prove why they can't, not just saying it on the record. There's a difference."
Here is a list of the important dates in this trial that were also set Wednesday morning: July 24th, the judge will hear motions already filed in the case by Lee's attorney Mike Mitchell concerning funding for the defense and the preservation of evidence. October eighth and ninth have been set aside as motion dates as well as December 10th and February 12th.